On March 9, when Evanston Dance Ensemble performers take the stage for an original ballet production of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, it will be a return to the magical world of Narnia nearly three years to the day after the show had to shut down because of pandemic restrictions. 

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is an original ballet first staged by Evanston Dance Ensemble in 2005. Credit: Matt Glavin/Evanston Dance Ensemble

That ill-fated production at the Josephine Louis Theater on Northwestern University’s campus had exactly one performance, on March 12, 2020.

Béa Rashid, who founded Evanston Dance Ensemble and Dance Center Evanston, the company where the ensemble got its start, had the foresight to have the performance videotaped, lest all of the dancers’ work be lost and forgotten. 

Now this year’s return to the same stage with a refreshed version of the same show feels like a celebration. Of the 21 dancers who will be performing, only two were involved in the 2020 production. And those dancers have grown physically, artistically and emotionally, so they have new parts and new costumes.

Rashid first staged the show in 2005. She described her creative process in a recent conversation that included her husband and frequent collaborator, Steve Rashid. He is a composer, performer, producer and sound engineer who has won numerous professional awards for his work scoring dance, film, television, theater and children’s recordings. 

Steve and Béa Rashid worked together on The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: She was one of the choreographers of the ballet and he composed original music for the work. Credit: Matt Glavin

“I wanted original music that would be really appropriate for the different scenes that I envisioned being part of the production,” Béa Rashid said. “I asked Steve if he would consider scoring the whole show. And he said yes. The process – from the point at which I decided to do the adaptation and he wrote the entire score, and then we choreographed it and put it on dancers and set it up on its feet on stage – took a couple of years.”

The show has been produced seven times since 2005, and each production is unique.

“Every single time we do this, there’s a different set of dancers in front of me, you know, and so, our goal is to make them look as strong as possible on stage,” Béa Rashid said. “For that reason, we do sometimes make adjustments to raise the level of the choreography to the level of the dancer that is being used or to just address the stylistic strengths of the dancer and to meet them where they are. It’s very much part of the collaboration with the dancers themselves. They bring a lot of character and a lot of personality to the roles they’re playing.”

She encourages the dancers to read the original fantasy novel, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, to gain a better understanding of the characters. Musicians don’t necessarily need to be inspired by the original story, but they do need to interpret the story to meet the needs of the choreographers.

Steve Rashid said, “My job was to work with the choreographers and make sure that the music that I developed reflected the same attitude towards that scene or narrative that the choreographers, in particular Béa, wanted.

“I live in a world of sound. One of the absolute joys of this for me, once I complete my work, is to actually see it. It’s like watching my music in front of me. … It’s always an emotionally powerful experience for me to simply see it physicalized in front of me, even after all these productions. The process itself is not new, but the experience is always fresh.”

Christina Ernst, artistic director of Evanston Dance Ensemble. Credit: Evanston Dance Ensemble

Christina Ernst, artistic director of Evanston Dance Ensemble, is also eager to see this year’s production on stage. After the pandemic shutdown, she described coming back as “a healing moment.” 

“It’s a timeless story because fairy tales or stories are about metaphors of good and bad,” Ernst said. “You kind of have to go on a journey and work through stuff, and I think it’s very much like life. Goodness prevails and wins in the end and everybody can relate to that.

“This show is done on a very high artistic level with the whole decor, the music, the lights, the costumes and the performers. It’s just a very artistic experience for all ages. It pleases everybody.”

The show will be performed March 9 through 12 at the Josephine Louis Theater at Northwestern University. Tickets for the 7:30 p.m. March 9 preview show are $15; tickets for other performances (at 7:30 p.m. March 10 and 1 and 4 p.m. March 11 and 12) are $15 for children and seniors and $25 for adults.

Tickets can be purchased through the Northwestern box office, over the phone at 847-491-7282 or online at tinyurl.com/lion2023.

Wendi Kromash

Wendi Kromash is curious about everything and will write about anything. She tends to focus on one-on-one interviews with community leaders, recaps and reviews of cultural events, feature stories about...

Leave a comment

The RoundTable will try to post comments within a few hours, but there may be a longer delay at times. Comments containing mean-spirited, libelous or ad hominem attacks will not be posted. Your full name and email is required. We do not post anonymous comments. Your e-mail will not be posted.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *